Triggering innovation in rail

Shift2Rail is a proud member of the 2020 edition of the European Startup Prize for Mobility. We had the honour and pleasure of asking the institution’s Executive Director, Mr Carlo Borghini a few questions about rail, innovation, and the current crisis.

How is S2R triggering innovation in the rail community?

Shift2Rail is about bringing people with different backgrounds, interests, experience, and perspectives to work together and co-create new operational and technological solutions that will change how rail is running and the services provided.

Innovation is triggered by the need to deliver such a transformation: on the one hand, the railway operating community sees its capacity to meet clients’ expectations eroding and, on the other hand, the supply industry sees global competition as more aggressive and, in some cases, unfair.

The meeting point of these two counterparts is Shift2Rail, and together with the research and scientific community, innovation is created, moving away from evolutive maintenance and looking to new challenges! Creativity and innovation can happen in Shift2Rail because different mindsets and competences, that would otherwise never have worked together, are joined to achieve a common R&I goal.

How is S2R engaging with startups in general and why did it choose to join EUSP in particular?

We decided to join the EUSP to ensure we engage with startups more and more! One of the major limitations we currently have is the lack of tools to attract startups and engage with them as much as we would like! Fortunately, most of our members bring into their work with Shift2Rail the startups with which they are already connected. However, increasing our engagement with startups in the future by adopting an agile approach to input their creativity and disruption in an overregulated system of systems, will be an important challenge to address in the next programming period.

What is your current vision of the post-Coronavirus road transport world? What will be the main changes and trends (e.g. individual modes of transport vs public; the risk on shared mobility, etc.)?

There is great uncertainty concerning the post-Coronavirus world. Through R&I we can experiment with different technologies, processes and innovations that could provide the best solutions for addressing different possible scenarios.

During the Coronavirus pandemic rail freight has deployed its means and really delivered, showing rail’s impressive potential to serve the logistic value chain. The post-Coronavirus era will inevitably carry with it the reactions to a major shock (e.g. health safety, fear, short term solutions, etc.). Shift2Rail’s service-oriented approach is all about rethinking rail mobility and transport, to deliver sustainable and resilient  systems, by building upon digitaliation, automation, robotics, supercomputing capacity, etc. We expect a great contribution from startups in helping us to achieve this!

What advice can you give to startups working in the railway sector today in light of the crisis?

It is tough, but do not give up: together with the H2020 Research and Innovation family we are doing everything we can to ensure that activities continue to move forward and opportunities remain available. The railway has demonstrated the important role it can play and opportunities for further engagement will come!

Be fast, do not be afraid to knock on the door of what appear to be big institutional bodies, but especially remember to knock on the door of Shift2Rail: we are working to ensure that the best R&I results hit the market, and when we can go fast, we will!

What is your main message for EU and national decision makers for supporting the industry during these difficult times? What would you call on them to do?

As a small EU institution, technically a body, we are ensuring we do more, together with the EU decision makers, to get through these difficult times. We have not and will not stop, and are all fully committed and operational to ensure resources are available, calls are processed and we come out stronger. Shift2Rail is all about working together, and it is only together that we will make it!

What current or upcoming work is S2R involved in that could be interesting for startups?

One of the topics in our current 2020 Call for Proposals is about aspects of non-traditional and emerging land transport technologies, and this certainly could be an area startups could be interested in working with us on. Remember, the deadline to apply is 27 May! We are also busy preparing for our next programming period 2021 – 2030. Help us shape it by telling us how you would like to work with us, by writing to!

Thank you Shift2Rail for your trust and for being such a committed partner of this year’s edition!